Contrary to how it may seem, it's not very fun reviewing bad games. Sure, there's a degree of enjoyment in being mean, but the shocking secret of criticising games that aren't enjoyable? We still have to play them. Picking up the Switch and knowing we had to play more Gleamlight made the system feel ten times heavier.
Gleamlight's developers have claimed that their game isn't a rip-off of Hollow Knight. They're right. If it was a rip-off, then it'd share some kind of inspiration, some mechanical flair. The creativity, the baseline of enjoyable moments, some solid fundamentals. It's all missing. It's not a rip-off of Hollow Knight, it's a stupid child's drawing of it.
Harsh, yes, but try playing the thing. The first thing you'll notice is the substandard, tweened animation that doesn't fit the aesthetic style at all. The graphics are admittedly attractive at times in their stained-glass splendour, but it's all in service of nothing. Your character moves like he's escaped from circa 2002 Newgrounds. Enemies are nondescript, misshapen blobs. Your sword swipe attack strives for the immediacy and tactile precision of Hollow Knight's pin, but there's no impact, no power to your attacks.
Everything's loose; disconnected. It's unclear at all times how many more hits you can take; striking enemies seems to give you more health, but it's a poorly-defined, messy system. The game is also really rather dark – yes, this is by design, hence Gleamlight – but it doesn't work. There are enemies all over the place – presumably to make up for the lack of imagination in their designs and move sets – and the darkness means you'll often find yourself leaping onto a visible platform only for your landing spot to suddenly be occupied by some sort of crawling monster. Frequently, the knockback from this will send you to the ground and have you land directly on some spikes, taking two unfair hits for the price of one and having to retrace your steps.
We lost most of our lives to these blind hits, as well as an issue where the game simply wouldn't let us jump roughly one in three times during a certain boss battle. Thankfully, though, we almost immediately realised that because of the way health works in Gleamlight, you can just stand next to (or even inside) larger enemies and spam the attack button, gaining back the health you lose with each swing of the sword. It's very, very clumsy and feels unfinished.
The level design, too, is slapdash. The areas don't feel crafted; they feel random, like assortments of platforms slapped together. We assumed it was some sort of procedurally-generated thing akin to Rogue Legacy, but no; it's just lax, unimpressive mush. None of the rooms are memorable. None of them are so much as interesting.
Playing through will see you unlock new skills for your character – we unlocked a dash move after the first boss, though it's worth noting that there was no indication that we had done so. We only figured it out after being faced with a wall of spikes that prompted us to try every button on the Switch until, ah yes, we can dash now. Not that this injected any semblance of real challenge into the game, or any artistry to the level design. This is no Metroidvania; it's a straightforward, linear thing. And there's nothing wrong with that, obviously, but when there's no reason to backtrack, the additional abilities seem a little pointless.
There's a saving grace to this nonsense, which it lasts for less than an hour. It'll take you as long to see the credits, following an unceremonious (and typically easy) "final" boss fight. A post-game is present, which sees you returning back to where you started, but it's extremely difficult to care. There's no real story to speak of, just the vaguest allusions that there might be something of consequence going on, maybe. You know, it's a very acclaimed approach to storytelling. In some ways, it's unique; you can just make up your own story. If it sucks, that's on you. Obviously we're being facetious. Presumably, Gleamlight is aiming for mystique, but it's impossible to care what, if anything, it all means.
Gleamlight is worse than the majority of bad games. With most poor-quality titles, the rot is obvious from the word go. Here, the game doesn't show its true colours until you realise it's over. Surely, you'll think, it's going to pick up? It generally looks nice, after all. It was featured in at least one Indie World presentation, which is usually a mark of at least some quality. But no. It's atrocious. It's boring to traverse, feels bad to play, has an insultingly low amount of content and has nothing to recommend it. Hollow Knight is actually cheaper, and there are plenty of lower-tier Switch platformers more deserving of your time than this. FoxyLand. Goblin Sword. Polyroll. Get those three for the same price as Gleamlight, maybe less. They're not even that good, but they're ten times the game Gleamlight is. Oh! And the music's discordant clanging rubbish, too. We hope it gets a physical release so we can throw it in a bin.